Older patients need greater support, fewer interruptions and more sensitive care at mealtimes, according to research published in the October issue of the UK-based Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia, spent two weeks studying 48 hospital patients and 50 nurses during mealtimes on two medical wards.
They discovered that 58 percent of the patients, who were aged 65 or over, had problems eating. Just under a third (31 percent) left more than two-thirds of their meal and only 15 percent had eaten it all.
More than half of the patients they studied (55 percent) had problems opening food and about a third found it difficult to use cutlery (36 percent) and add seasoning (32 percent).
More than a fifth (23 percent) were too far away from their food and 18 percent said their eating position was uncomfortable or they had problems pouring drinks.
Although nurses were good at describing the food and encouraging patients to eat it, practical support was only given to a small percentage of patients. For example only six percent were made more comfortable or helped with cutlery.
Interruptions were also frequent. One in five patients (19 percent) had a doctor's visit during mealtimes and more than half (51 percent) had mealtimes interrupted by other staff, mostly nurses (92 percent).
Three patients were asked about their bowels while they were eating and four male patients had urine bottles place on the table beside meals.
"Recent research suggests that 40 percent of older people are malnourished when they are admitted to hospital" says lead researcher Chenfan Xia, who was based at the University at the time of the study - with co-author Professor Helen McCutcheon - and now works in an aged care facility.
"The nutritional status of 60 percent of all older patients will deteriorate further while they are in hospital, with those who w
Contact: Annette Whibley
Blackwell Publishing Ltd.